Brian O’Driscoll believes Robbie Henshaw can be Ireland’s next “seasoned campaigner” at outside centre.
Former captain O’Driscoll threw his backing behind the 20-year-old Connacht centre to succeed him in Ireland’s coveted number 13 shirt.
Iconic centre O’Driscoll is fully fit and ready to surpass George Gregan’s world-record 139 Test cap haul in Ireland’s RBS 6 Nations clash with Italy on Saturday.
But the 35-year-old rebuffed any sentiment ahead of his final Ireland bow at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium, before his summer retirement.
Backing three-cap Henshaw to lead the next generation of midfield talent, O’Driscoll said: “Robbie is a very, very talented young lad, who is a great listener, a really good young talent, and really good lad too.
“I think he has all the attributes to be a seasoned campaigner for Ireland for many, many years.
“And then you have the beauty of guys who have played there before in Luke Fitzgerald, someone like Jared Payne who qualifies in November.
“As 13s absolutely Robbie and Darren Cave are well-placed; we’ve an abundance of talent coming through.
“I think it’s testament to Darren, who has not been in the frame for a while, but keeping an eye on his form for Ulster he’s been playing extremely well.
“So I think we’re in a good place with guys coming through, and in no time no one will remember me!”
O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy have been near ever-presents in both Leinster and Ireland’s midfields since 2000.
Their combination stands alone as the world’s most-capped centre duo, with O’Driscoll clear why: near-telepathic understanding.
“We just know each other’s style of play,” said O’Driscoll.
“We’ve a good ability to be able to read what one another are thinking, and have a lot of comfort in being beside one another.
“In a lot of new centre partnerships you need communication to be a huge aspect of your cohesion.
“Whereas with us, not that there’s an air of telepathy, but there’s definitely an understanding that I don’t have with other people there, where I can see, having been in the situation lots of times with him, I see what he’s doing.
“There’s huge trust as well, particularly from a defence point of view, Gordon is a dream to defend with, because I know he’s going to make his tackles.
“I remember one missed tackle pretty much in his entire career that was costly.
“So he’s been an exceptional defender, and I just really enjoy playing with him: when he’s there I feel as though we’ve got a good relationship that can cause teams trouble.”
O’Driscoll admitted he thought last March’s 13-13 draw with France in Dublin would prove his final Ireland turn on home soil.
Three-quarters of his bonus season later, the decorated British Lion finds it easier to shrug off the emotions of retirement the second time around.
Ireland can still take the Six Nations title, and O’Driscoll is refusing to focus on anything else.
“It doesn’t feel any different, it’s just hard: you just want to get on with it,” he said.
“I’m excited about it being a last home game, for sure, in that it will be one to remember.
“But at the same time and more importantly it’s an opportunity to put ourselves in an opportunity to win the Six Nations.
“I really won’t think too much on the final games until it’s done and dusted, and there’ll be plenty of time to reflect on it afterwards.
“There was emotion last year; against France I did at the time think that was going to be it.
“But a couple of different factors convinced me to play on for another year.
“I’m not really that emotional a person, and so I won’t allow the build-up to affect me.
“Whatever emotions you do have after that will happen organically.
“Sure aspects will be difficult and I’ll be sad, but I can’t wait.
“There is no individual feeling, there really isn’t.
“I’ve never been one for great sentiment.
“There’s always time to reflect afterwards, and that’s the time to do it.
“The team is the absolute priority.
“There will be no extra emphasis made from anyone, other than an opportunity to give ourselves a final-day showdown with France.”